WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — A veteran who went on the Kansas Honor Flight trip to visit the memorials in —Washington racked up more than 8,700 flying hours during his service. But the Air Force veteran said he never had a flight quite like the Honor Flight.
Russ Adams was just a young man when he gave his pledge to the United States Air Force.
“At that time, we only had two squadrons of tankers at McConnell, and it kept all of us going all the time. We were not home,” he said.
That was the toughest part for Adams. In all of his years of service, especially during Vietnam, the retired airman says the real heroes were the soldiers and sailors.
For him, the Honor Flight was a mission to honor the friends he lost during the war. One of the first names he found was Patrick E. O’Brien.
“Real good friends that I grew up with from elementary school,” Adams said.
They were raised in Great Bend.
“John A. Love,” he said, pointing to another friend’s name. “I want to say he and I spent a lot of time in high school detention together.”
He says they were just kids when they went to war.
“They got drafted right after high school and were deceased within a year of hitting the ground over there,” Adams said.
That is why he had to find them on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall. When he did, he was visibly shaken.
“It means a great deal to me we were … we were very close friends,” he said.
Adams did two tours in Vietnam as a KC-135 boom operator.
“I just feel terrible that I was able to go over there and land after every mission,” he said.
The aircraft was vital in the war effort since the tankers are the gas stations of the sky.
“We say we had three officers to drive us back and forth to work, and when we got there, we laid down and passed gas,” Adams said.
Many of his nearly 9,000 flying hours came from the Looking Glass, a 24/7 airborne mission.
“The only time (the plane) ever landed was when the other one took off,” he said.
He says the most rewarding part of his career came later.
“My job was to schedule aircrews with matching sorties in all of NATO.”
Adams also flew in support of Desert Storm. In all, he served the Stars and Stripes for 22 years.
“This is something I thought I would never get to do,” he said about seeing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
The retired master sergeant is grateful he had the opportunity to pay tribute to those on the wall, and he still tears up when hearing taps and thinking of his childhood friends and so many others.
“They gave all,” he said.
To learn more about the Kansas Honor Flight program, click here.